The humanitarian sector recognizes that there can be no sustainable development without a healthy natural environment, which is key to sustaining the livelihoods of current and future generations.  That’s why humanitarians are taking collective action to ensure that their life-saving activities today do not have impacts that need cleaning up tomorrow: and yet, it’s difficult to measure and manage the impact of humanitarian activities.  

Two years ago, the Logistics Cluster environment Project (WREC) team embarked in an academic journey with the Hanken School of Economics HUMLOG Institute and the Kuhne Logistics University / Centre for Humanitarian Operations Research and Development (CHORD) , to shed light on how humanitarian response can negatively impact the environment, building a knowledge base to support logisticians in impact reduction and beyond! 

In 2022, the WREC explored the current trends and challenges faced in the implementation of solutions in humanitarian supply chains, related to waste management and reverse logistics. The research conducted with the Hanken School of Economics and the WREC team, led to the publication of the qualitative study on "Waste management and reverse logistics in the humanitarian context" which highlighted the importance of different partnerships between stakeholders to improve environmental sustainability within humanitarian operations.  

This report presents the results of a qualitative baseline study which consisted of a state-of-the-art literature review and an empirical interview study. The literature review1explored both the academic and grey literature relating to waste management and reverse logistics in the humanitarian context. Key considerations emerged from the study:

  • Procurement, localization, and collaboration as extremely relevant factors in achieving functioning systems within humanitarian operations;
  • Procurement is an operational activity, which can have significant practical implications through streamlined processes and effective partnerships. Through procurement,improvements can be made in e.g. the materials and packaging of the aid items sent, as well as establishing partnerships with environmentally certified suppliers;
  • Collaboration with local partners, including grassroots organizations, local authorities, and private sector is key to reduce waste volumes and adopt coordinated approaches to waste management

Hanken quote

Following on the qualitative study, CHORD and the Logistics Cluster analyzed a sample of  common core relief items which contribute to waste and GHG emissions.  The quantitative study 'Measuring the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Waste of Humanitarian Supply Chains' looked at nutritional supplement (a food item) and tarpaulins (a non-food item) in specific contexts to help identify priority areas of intervention and impact-reduction actions, with specific recommendations for humanitarian logisticians. The outcomes and learnings from this study can be used to support humanitarians in making informed, evidence-based decisions towards a more environmentally sustainable future of humanitarian response. Key findings of the study include:

  • Procurement plays a key role in setting the tone for the rest of the supply chain
  • While air transport offers reduced response time, it comes with a big environmental price tag.
  • Preparedness and prepositioning in close proximity to disaster-prone areas can be pivotal in balancing environmental (e.g., GHG emissions and waste), social (e.g., response time), and economic (e.g., response cost) perspectives


These two studies are just the beginning!  The Logistics Cluster environment team will continue to partner with academia to address knowledge gaps in the sector, to bridge the gap between humanitarian disaster response and environmental sustainability. Would you like to know more about our journey and engage with the Logistics Cluster environment project activities, requesting helpdesk support, or sharing success stories on environmental sustainability? Contact the WREC team! (